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  • thomasemontgomery

The Story of My Education

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Many years ago, I made a vow to God that if he helped me get through college I would give him the glory for it. Nine years later I had earned a Master of Divinity degree, and five years after that I went back to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree as well.

This is the story of how it happened.

I think it's best told through my two graduation speeches.

Graduation Day (North Park Theological Seminary)

Those of you who know me well know that I dropped out of school twice before; partly because of personal problems I was having, and partly because of financial pressure. I was in my mid-twenties and I was completely crushed; stuck in a bunch of dead end jobs. I thought that I'd never be able to get my life on track again.

People often say, “I couldn’t have done this without God," but I have a track record to prove it. In fact, I was so discouraged and disappointed with my past attempts at school that I made a vow to God.

I made a journal entry telling God that if he would get me through college (meaning that he would provide the money I needed, friends, and emotional and mental stability), I vowed to give him the glory for it.

Four months later I began to come across scriptures about "fulfilling your vows to the Lord." It seemed like God was trying to say something to me about this.

God takes vows very seriously. If we promise him something we had better deliver. But, being the simple human that I am, I said, “God, I didn’t make any vows to you! What vows are you talking about?" Then I happened to pick up my journal and read that entry.

Oh! THAT vow!

Then I thought about it and realized, “man, if God is going to require me to give him glory, that must mean that he is going to do his part; he's going to give me an education!”

Yet, there was a roadblock. At the same time that I felt God promise to help me get an education, I also felt he was also calling me to go to Chicago, to work at an inner city mission where I would not make any money and I would not be able to pursue more schooling. He was calling me to "Go sell what you have, give to the poor and come follow me."

So God had given me a promise, and yet now he was calling me to do something which seemed like it would stop him from fulfilling it! He promised to get me through school and yet now he said go to a place where you can’t go to school.

At that time I was studying Genesis with two friends, and we came across the story of Abraham and Isaac. God promised Abraham that he would have a multitude of descendants. That his children would become entire nations of people, kings and queens would come from him. And yet, God waited until Abraham was very old before giving him his son, Isaac. And now, God asked Abraham to take his son Isaac, his only son, and sacrifice to God as a burnt offering.

God had made great promises to Abraham, and now he was telling him to do something which would stop God from fulfilling his plan. No Isaac means no descendants, and no promise fulfilled.

Yet, the bible says that Abraham was so convinced that God was faithful, that he knew He would raise Isaac from the dead if he had to in order to fulfill his promise. Of course, we know the story, and God stopped Abraham from killing his son; but there is a lesson there.

This was the kind of faith I needed to have. I needed to be so convinced that God was so faithful that he would fulfill his promises, that he would raise my Isaac, my education, back from the dead if he had to in order to fulfill it.

And this is just what he did.

I sold my car, quit my job, said goodbye to my family and friends and came to Chicago. I worked as a volunteer for five years at the inner city ministry, and after that time, in an amazing turn of events, God opened the doors for me to go to seminary.

I had no money, no savings, or anything, and I had no undergraduate degree; and he opened the doors for me to get a Master’s Degree.

Generally, you need a bachelor's degree in order to get into a master's program; but I had met a seminary professor who encouraged me to apply, saying that on rare occasions they make exceptions based on perceived potential, and he thought I should apply. And so I applied! I filled out all the paper work and wrote a paper showing that I was capable of graduate level work, and I got in!

As I transitioned from the inner city ministry to North Park Theological Seminary, someone offered me a job (with good pay), someone else gave me money (since I had zero savings, having worked as a volunteer these past 5 years), and someone else gave me a car (a red Pontiac Sunbird with a sun roof and headlights that opened and closed)! God had given back to me all of the things I left behind when I first went to serve him in Chicago, and he increased them!

Seminary has been one of the best times of my life. I loved my classes and had good grades, made some good friends, and felt like I was on top of the world.

When Jonah was in the belly of the whale, he made a promise to God. He said he would offer God sacrifices if he rescued him from this fish. The Hebrew word for sacrifice here is “Yada,” which one could almost say means “barbecue testimony.’ What the ancient Israelites would do is they would sacrifice an animal, cook it, and feed a large crowd of people. While the people were eating this “yada” sacrifice, the person would tell the congregation the story of what God has done for them.

This party is my yada, my sacrifice testimony, my offering of thanks to God for what he has done for me to get me through school.

Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.


Interim period:

After graduation I remained at the church I did my internship in for another year. At the end of that year, I decided it was time to go back home to Massachusetts. Most of my family was not attending church, and I thought maybe if I found a ministry job out there, they would come to my church. Well, I didn't find a ministry job, but I did find an entry level position as a "direct care counselor" for a mental health organization.

Those 4 years were some of the worst years of my life (financial, social, etc). Thankfully, God eventually sent me to California. Which brings us to the next chapter.

Part 2: Graduation Day (Academy of Art University)

I am about to graduate from Academy of Art University.

Five years ago, in the middle of a recession, I quit my secure job with benefits, and drove across the country, from Boston to San Francisco, to go to Art School. It seemed crazy and radical at the time. Looking back, I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

It has been an epic, sweeping, gratifying, and challenging journey. Over the past five years, I experienced many trials:

MENTAL: How will I ever keep up with these millennial kids (who grew up with the

internet) and learn all of this software?!

SOCIAL: At 40 years old, I entered a school where the median age was 20 years

younger than me, in a city that worships youth.

FINANCIAL: I remember one particularly bad week in which I bought a box of

Manchurian Ramen and a dozen eggs and I had to portion out one egg and one bag

of ramen each day until my paycheck came. That was all that I had.

HEALTH-RELATED: I had open heart surgery in 2012—a whole ‘nother story, related to

a health issue I was born with. By the grace of God, I recovered wonderfully.

ARTISTIC: You sometimes think, in the middle of the night, am I a terrible artist?! The

bar is set really high at AAU, especially in year one, when 30% of the student body

typically drops out. Another 30% drops out in year two.

And yet, despite the trials (or perhaps because of them) I found myself rising to new heights; my skills steadily improving, my confidence rising. In the past couple of years I self-published my first comic book, Plasmatic, and completed my first short film. I also developed a portfolio and a demoreel that I am proud of.

As exciting as all of this may be, my journey becomes even more amazing when you set it into its wider context: In 1995 I gave up my college education to go serve God as an inner-city missionary (for NO MONEY) in Chicago. I only did this because I firmly believed God’s promise that if I gave up my education for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel, I would receive it back ONE-HUNDRED-FOLD in this lifetime. (Mark 10:29-30).

In 2004, through the miraculous open door that God provided for me, I received a Master of Divinity degree from North Park Theological Seminary, despite the fact that I had never finished my Bachelors Degree. With God's help, I graduated with honors.

Then, in 2009, the world was closing in on me. Ministry was drying up, and financial pressures were increasing. I was unhappy in my job, and in my life, and becoming very angry with God. I was working in Mental Health at the time, and one day I said to my coworker, “I am going to pray that today God gives me a sign what to do with my life, because I feel like I am on a hamster wheel going 'round and 'round, not getting anywhere.”

I then opened my email, and there was an email from Academy of Art University, and I suddenly noticed that their animation department was located at 180 New Montgomery Street; One-Eighty (a complete turn-around) NEW MONTGOMERY (a brand new me)!

I had always drawn cartoons and wrote stories when I was growing up. Before I had felt the call to ministry I wanted to be an animator. Perhaps it was time to change course? But ART SCHOOL? During a recession? That would be a huge risk.

After much wrestling with God through prayer, several more signs and confirmations, and a continued in-depth analysis of my life, I finally decided to go to the Academy and re-invent my life. The rest is history.

Over these past five years, even though I have remained in relationship with God, I still had a lot of bitterness and anger to work through over my experience with ministry and how it ended. Somehow, during these past years, all of that melted away: the anger, the bitterness, the cynicism

I felt about serving God, and the skepticism I felt towards God’s trustworthiness—even the reluctance to be involved in anything that would be called ministry---it’s gone. All of it. This has been an amazing time of spiritual regeneration for me.

And Now. Now I stand on the edge of tomorrow, having been fully equipped in two multi-disciplinary fields: Animation and Theology. My final class at the Academy, which I will be taking online this summer (when I officially finish), is “Comparative Religion.” Haha! Seriously! And so it all comes full circle.

I do not know what the future holds. I do not know what God plans for me. But I stand here with arms wide open, saying “Here I am, use me.”

Special shout out to all my teachers at the Academy! I especially want to thank David Choong Lee, who set the bar of expectation high from the very beginning; Michael Buffington, who put me through the greatest Academic Hell I have ever experienced—but somehow we came to a mutual respect for one another in the end; Michael Vickner who taught me almost everything I know about Animation; Tom Arndt ( may he rest in peace) who gave me great encouragement and a solid foundation in the 12 principles of Animation; Robert Steele who gave me a great amount of insight into my own particular strengths and weaknesses as an artist, and provided invaluable career advise to me during my Midpoint Review; Thomas Gronbukt who was very patient and showed me all the things I was doing wrong in Figure Drawing; Brendan Milos who provided a wonderful amount of information overload every week; Joko Bodino who helped me to finally understand everything I was doing wrong with perspective; Tamara Lusher Stocker who helped me to refine my storyboarding skills; and last but not least, Shaun Featherstone—my unofficial adviser and greatest cheerleader throughout my time at the Academy. Shaun, I feel like saying what Dorothy said to the Scarecrow at the end of the Wizard of Oz: I think I am going to miss you most of all.

Five years ago, as I was leaving Massachusetts, I had a going-away party, and Elijah and Patsun Lillie gave me a CD as a gift, and on it there was a track called, “The World Awaits You.” I think it fittingly sums up the way I feel as I am about to leave the Academy.

The World Awaits You—by Ryanhood

The day you’re born is the first day you cry

There’s no warm welcome for coming to life

Some get a silver spoon, some get a name

Some get hated on, thrown away

Some people criticize, say you’re too far

Too much of whatever you are

They’ll pick you apart to show that they’re smart

But show that you’ve got what it takes

The world awaits you

Some will sing of sunlit days

Some get so sad that they step in the way of a moving train

You think that you’re losing, you feel like you’re lost

But you’re finding purpose in paths that you cross

What you were made for, no one can say

But you’re finding out everyday

It picks you

apart and it cuts to the heart

Until you know that you’ve got what it takes

Everyone falls, everyone breaks

You think that you’re fading,

you feel like you’re gone

But the bones that you’ve broken are growing in stronger

It’s a difficult world with a beautiful way

Of turning your pain into strength

Go, the world awaits you


After graduation I tried to get a studio job (unsuccessfully). I eventually did some freelance animation work, which sustained me for awhile, but I soon realized that when I was busy doing freelance art I was no longer working on my own art projects.

Eventually, I decided that I want to work on my own projects and tell my own stories. This is what my original dream was, and continues to be to this day.

And so, I decided that making comic books would provide the best opportunity to do that. In time, when I have enough comics published, I hope to pitch a collection of them to a studio to be made into an animated series. This way I could retain creative control, and tell the kind of stories that I want to tell.

Currently, I am working side jobs, not really making money on my art, so I could use your support.

Please check out my comics and let me know what you think!

And also, please check out my Patreon link under the contact tab.


-Tom Montgomery

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